Doctoral Student Craig Weinschenk:
The Science of Fighting Fire
If your house ever caught fire, it’s a safe bet that you would want the team of firefighters who show up to have met Craig Weinschenk.
Weinschenk, a doctoral student in Mechanical Engineering, has been studying fire science since he arrived at the University of Texas in 2006. After applying to graduate programs across the country, Weinschenk began making the rounds to visit these various universities. It was almost immediately after he set foot on campus that Weinschenk met Mechanical Engineering professor Dr. Ofodike Ezekoye and realized what he was meant to do—even if it came as a surprise to him at the time.
“I met Dr. Ezekoye and we started talking about some other research he was doing,” says Weinschenk. “I saw a melted fire helmet hanging up and I asked him about it and we started chatting—we talked about my friends, many of who are firefighters, and Dr. Ezekoye said, ‘We have a grant coming through. Do you want to work on it?’ and now I’m in Texas.”
Weinschenk is using engineering science to better understand firefighting tactics and working to bridge the gap between science and real-life firefighting situations. Though there is a designed ‘burn building’ on the Pickle Research Campus, Weinschenk uses supercomputers in the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to simulate fire situations in order to understand how flames grow and how air impacts the fire. Weinschenk also gets hands-on training from the Austin Fire Department in order to better understand how fires work and how best to handle them.
“I attack the fire problems from both experimental and computational side,” says Weinschenk. “We want to improve science and technology, but we are trying to adapt everything we do to assist firefighters,” he says.
Early on in his time at UT, Weinschenk had a profound moment while attending a firefighting cadet class.
“They give fire science lectures, and instructors were quizzing students and asking questions,” says Weinschenk. “They asked me what my input was and (wanted) to make sure it was going right.”
“The fact that they asked for my input made me think, ‘Wow..there’s really a chance to do something good here.”
And do something he has. Weinschenk, who Dr. Ezekoye calls “a rising star” in fire research, has already co-authored a paper that was published in Fire Technology and served as president of the UT chapter of the Society of Fire Protection Engineering. For his part, Weinschenk says that it has been “amazing” to be a graduate student at UT for the past four years. He has greatly enjoyed working with Dr. Ezekoye; a man he calls “one of the smartest people I have ever met.”
“There are so many opportunities,” says Weinschenk, who will graduate May. “In addition to conferences, it’s discussing with other academics and professors. There is so much academic work going on.”
“If you talk to anyone around the county and say that you do research at UT, it has a credibility that is rare.”
Craig Weinschenk plans to do post-doctoral work in fire research, and hopes to one day become a professor.
Read more Feature Stories